Side dishes take centre stage

Thanksgiving dinner is filled with tradition for most people, but why not put a little spin on some old favourites

Sometimes, when we lose someone we love, we realize just how much life has/is gifting us. Such is where I have been these past few months, stressed to the point of being impaired and incompetent, and yet feeling so blessed and thankful for my family, friends, business partners and even strangers who have helped me through a tough time.

And so with Thanksgiving upon us, I thought it might be a good time to offer some side dishes for the big meal. It’s a time when many of us serve more fresh vegetables than usual, be they steamed, roasted or baked into casseroles. With that in mind, I’ve chosen dishes that can be made year-round but that will be appropriate for the big feast.

For me, a squash recipe is a must even if only two of us will eat it. Today’s recipe, with its crispy bread crumbs, adds a bit of crunch to tender slices of butternut squash seasoned with garlic and Parmesan. Garlic potatoes are always a hit and a green bean/carrot casserole is delicious any time. Again, this can be prepared ahead of time, refrigerated (for a couple of days) and baked on serving day. And what would a turkey dinner be without Brussels sprouts? This one is for the Brussels sprout haters in the group, and I dare them to try it; you will be surprised at how good they can be.

Parmesan Butternut Squash Gratin

1 butternut squash (2 1/2 lbs./1.25 kg)

1/4 cup butter or margarine

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray 13×9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray.

Peel, halve lengthwise and seed squash; cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange with slices overlapping slightly in bottom of baking dish.

In 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Reduce heat to low. Add garlic; cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft and butter is infused with garlic flavour. Do not let butter brown.

In small bowl, mix bread crumbs, cheese and 1 tablespoon of the butter-garlic mixture.

Brush squash slices with remaining butter-garlic mixture. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and bread crumb mixture.

Bake uncovered 30 to 40 minutes or until squash is tender when pierced with fork. Increase oven temperature to 425 F; bake 5 to 10 minutes longer or until lightly browned. Before serving, sprinkle parsley over top.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

6 cloves garlic, peeled

1/4 cup olive oil

7 baking potatoes, peeled and cubed

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place garlic cloves in a small baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, cover and bake 45 minutes, or until golden brown.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add potatoes, and cook until tender. Drain, and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Place roasted garlic, milk, Parmesan cheese and butter into the bowl with the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Beat to desired consistency with an electric mixer. Can be made ahead 2 to 3 days and reheated in oven.

Green Bean/Carrot Casserole

1 3/4 cups green beans

1 3/4 cups carrots, sliced in coins

2 tablespoons minced onions

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 1/2 cups milk

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 cup Ritz cracker crumbs or 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

3 tablespoons butter

Steam beans and carrots 5 minutes only. Drain and set aside.

Cook onions slightly in oil, add flour and seasoning; blend well. Add milk gradually and cook until slightly thickened. Add eggs slowly and whisk quickly to cook over low heat, 1 minute. Add cheese and stir in vegetables. Pour into greased baking dish; cover with crumbs and dot with butter.

Bake in a moderate oven (350 F) for 30 minutes. Note: Under-cook the green beans and carrots, as they will be cooked again in the oven.

Thanksgiving Brussels Sprouts

2 lbs. fresh Brussels sprouts, halved

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup butter, divided

1 large onion, diced

1/4 cup apple juice

1 large Red Delicious apple, diced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon sugar

1 (8 ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained (optional)

1/2 cup golden raisins

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

Pepper, to taste

Nutmeg, to taste

Salt, to taste

Bring Brussels sprouts, lemon juice, salt and water to cover sprouts to boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until tender, 5-7 minutes. Drain and keep them warm.

Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add onion and sauté until caramel colour. Add apple juice and cook for 2 minutes. Add apple, garlic, sugar; cook, stirring constantly, for 5-6 minutes or until apple is tender. Add water chestnuts, raisins, lemon rind, pepper, nutmeg, more salt to taste and 2 tbsp. butter; cook, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes. Gently toss in Brussels sprouts. Enjoy.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every other Wednesday and one Sunday per month.